One of the best boxers in the world and perhaps the singularly most destructively entertaining pugilist out there is on a mission to become an undisputed champion.
Japanese sensation Naoya ‘The Monster’ Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) holds the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles at 118 lbs, and the only man standing in the way of undisputed status is WBO champion Paul Butler (34-2, 15 KOs). Those two have agreed to meet on December 13th at a location TBD in Japan, per ESPN’s Mike Coppinger. It’s expected that ESPN+ will stream the bout in the USA, while Amazon Prime has the rights in Japan.
Inoue is coming off a second-round mauling of the legendary Nonito Donaire in June. Those two had a thrilling match in 2019 that saw Inoue hurt and busted up but still able to score a knockdown and defeat Donaire by decision. The rematch? Not competitive. The win added the WBC title to Inoue’s collection. His vaunted punching power has felled every opponent he’s ever faced at bantamweight.
Butler’s road to the WBO title has been... unusual, to say the least. You see, the preceding WBO champion was John Riel Casimero, who was supposed to face Inoue way back in 2020 before the pandemic nixed a massive chunk of the boxing schedule. Casimero (31-4, 21 KOs) was supposed to fight Butler last December but was hospitalized with viral gastritis right before the weigh-ins. When the fight was rescheduled for April, Casimero broke British Boxing Board of Control rules for weight cutting and was pulled again. Jonas Sultan fought Butler on short notice for an interim title, which Butler won by decision.
Given all of this nonsense, Casimero was stripped of the belt and Butler was elevated to full champion. The Englishman is a former IBF champion whose only loss in the weight class came to Manny Rodriguez in 2018. Admittedly, Butler’s recent spate of wins has been light on quality opposition, and he’s going to be an enormous underdog against the great Inoue, but most people would be at this point.
It is expected that should he win and fully unify the 118 lbs division, Inoue will move up to super-bantamweight (122 lbs) and take on the best that formidable weight class has to offer. Fights against Stephen Fulton and Murodjon Akhmadaliev look positively tantalizing, but first thing’s first and that’s to defeat Butler and become undisputed.